Petaluma crossfit star Molly Vollmer honors late brother-in-law James Forni

She has a highlight reel from one of the most physically challenging competitions and holds personal records among the elites in Olympic weightlifting, but despite her celebrity status in the Crossfit industry, Petaluma’s Molly Vollmer remains true to her roots.

“What I really admire about her is that even though she is a Crossfit celebrity, she has always maintained a sense of who she was,” said coworker and friend Cheryl Hargrove. “The biggest factor of that is having such a strong anchoring base at home.”

Anyone who meets the 30-year-old Vollmer gets to meet a very genuine person, Hargrove said.

In a tight-knit family, Vollmer has grown closer to her Petaluma ties after the passing of her brother-in-law James Forni on June 28.

“The support of our family is the only thing that could have gotten me through what I’ve been through,” said Vollmer’s sister, Mary Forni, about the recent passing of her husband. “Even when we go places and people recognize her, she’s still Molly. She’s still my sister and family, and that support is all that matters at the end of the day.”

James Forni taught at Casa Grande High School, where he coached the boys’ basketball team and had a strong impact in Sonoma County.

“Anyone who knew James knew his incredible work ethic,” Vollmer said. “He had such a unique ability to connect and motivate people.”

Before his death, Forni, who was 36 years old when he passed away, was one of Vollmer’s biggest supporters, she said.

He motivated her throughout her career with his motto, “Vincero,” which means “I will win” in Italian.

“Before he passed and even still now, he is a huge inspiration for her,” said Miranda Oldroyd, Vollmer’s teammate on NorCal Crossfit.

“When she would struggle through a workout or even just a bad day, she would think of him and she’s one of the most optimistic and strongest people I know,” Oldroyd said.

His eight-year fight with melanoma inspired her, Vollmer said, and even when he was sick he still followed her career.

Vollmer dedicated her recent trip to the 2015 Crossfit Games to Forni.

“His fight to live was so inspiring to all of us and it was an example for me,” she said. “Through all my training and competing, it just put things into perspective and it just made sense that I did it for him.”

Vollmer organized the “Vincero WODathon,” a fundraiser at NorCal Crossfit in Santa Clara on Oct. 24, that raised more than $15,000 and drew a crowd of at least 130 participants.

The support of family and friends is nothing new for Vollmer. Her strong ties to her family in Northern California translated to strong friendships.

Much of her interest in soccer was the result of valuable relationships she had formed with teammates, Vollmer said.

“I really thrived being on a team with the same group of girls I played with growing up,” she said about her years playing soccer at Casa Grande High School, as well as various indoor and club teams.

“After high school, I didn’t even want to play without those girls,” she said.

After high school, Vollmer dabbled in various fitness pursuits, including half marathons and yoga classes, but it wasn’t until she found Crossfit North Marin in Novato that she started to find her competitive spirit again.

While working at a winery part-time and holding another part-time internship at the gym, Vollmer said she began to enjoy the sport more and more.

“I enjoyed it as an athlete, but also as a passion for a career,” she said.

Vollmer took a leap out of the comforts of Petaluma in 2011, when she moved to San Diego and dedicated her fitness and career to the sport, competing for the first time in 2012 in San Diego.

Relocating to San Diego also gave her the opportunity to reconnect with a childhood friend - Adam Vollmer - and after a few years of coaching and competing together, the two tied the knot in October 2013.

Vollmer returned to Northern California and began training and coaching at NorCal Crossfit under the sport’s top dog and former Crossfit Games champion, Jason Khalipa. After training with Khalipa for several months, Vollmer competed as an individual in the Games for the first time in 2013.

“I progressed rapidly working under him,” Vollmer said. “I really grew as an athlete.”

In 2014, Vollmer broke her foot at a regional competition after holding a place in the top 10 for most of the weekend. She finished 18th overall after the injury.

“Molly can flip her perspective about anything and see the good in it,” Forni said about her sister. “There will always be roadblocks and there will always be obstacles, but it’s about how you handle them.”

The build-up and progression in Vollmer’s fitness hit an all-time high this summer, when she competed with Team NorCal in the 2015 Crossfit Games. The team held the first-place spot after six of the total 16 events had been completed, but the six-person team was cut from the final three events when Oldroyd tore her ACL.

In one event, the three women on the team drag a 225-pound “Slug” 100 feet, and in one of the most profound moments of the Games, Oldroyd said, she watched Vollmer and teammate Jen Zambruno rally to a fifth-place finish.

“That will be one of my most favorite and difficult memories of my eight years in Crossfit,” she said. “Who those girls are as individuals and what they mean to me, it was just incredible to watch.”

Vollmer and her remaining four teammates then proceeded to push “Big Bob” - a 1,000-pound sled designed for six people - for 300 feet for a 26th-place finish. They were only 30 seconds out from another top-10 finish.

“It brought us together,” Vollmer said. “We could have just backed out of the weekend but the bond we created really helped us grow a lot. We learned what we want to carry over into next year.”

Vollmer’s future will remain in Crossfit - she is already preparing for the 2016 Crossfit Games with her NorCal teammates and will continue to coach at the Redwood City location - and hopes to build a stronger Crossfit family north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Crossfit is just living a healthy life,” she said, “and 99 percent of the people who do it are not elite athletes. I want to bring it closer to home so people can come together.”

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